By Richard Gwynallen
(flourished 1807 – 1820)
Relationship to Fawn: Distant cousin
I was excited about this little find because of its similarity to the story of our weaver poet relation in Ireland, James Campbell of Ballynure – A Weaver Poet. James and Hugh, the subject of this story, shared the same occupation in the same time period, and were part of the same movement of working class poets known as the Weaver Poets in Ulster, where James lived, and as the Rhyming Weavers in Scotland, where Hugh lived. Weaving may sound very crafty and creative in modern times, but it was a hard-working life.
Our Allan/Allen family left Scotland in 1746 or 1747 as I describe in When Allens and Gwynnes came together. However, I recently stumbled across an indication that while George Allan took his family out of Scotland, and James ended up marrying Anne Gwynne, it seems that one of George’s brothers, Thomas, stayed in Scotland, and had a son named Hugh, who also had a son named Hugh, born in Aberdeenshire. If George and James spoke Gaelic and English when they fled Scotland, by the time we come upon Hugh the family is speaking only Scots, at least as indicated by his poetry.
An 1801 parish record in Aberdeenshire shows Hugh Allan in Turriff, Aberdeenshire, with his father living with him, and recording his occupation as a weaver. The date of his birth is uncertain, but this seems to be the same Hugh Allan that appears in the University of Aberdeen Special Collections, which records him as flourishing between 1807 and 1820. This Hugh Allan is noted in University of Aberdeen Special Collections and in The Bards of Bon-Accord as a weaver poet, and as precentor to the Episcopal congregation at Turriff, Aberdeenshire. A precentor is one who facilitates worship, particularly leading congregational singing.
The Cuminestown Episcopal Church was the congregation formed in the village of Cuminestown about 1791 from the poor and working classes of the area. This may have been the congregation for which Hugh would have served as precentor after Presbyterianism dominated Aberdeenshire.
The Bards of Bon-Accord, also called The Ballads of Bon-Accord, was a publication of lesser known Scottish poets, many of simply a local reputation. It was authored by William Walker and published in 1859. Hugh was included in the book, and was apparently particularly known for a piece called Elegy on the Auld Kirk of Turriff. I have not found an online version of this yet, but a few scraps of fun verse attributed to Hugh appears in Scottish Notes & Queries of November 1888.
Tubalcain w’ his plumjurden
Cemented the pan on the stone,
And Jubal, he bang’d up his burden
And played clout the ca’dron wi’s drone.
And noo to conclude my gweed neepers,
When ye hear that I’m deid an’ gone,
Convene me a score ‘o gweed pipers
And play the corpse up the Kirk loan,
His sister is also referenced in The Bards of Bon-Accord as “. . . a rhymer, [who] wrote a good song.” I have not yet been able to find her name, or more examples of her work than what appears in The Bards of Bon-Accord.
The work of Hugh and his sister was apparently well known in Turriff in the early 18th century.
I have not had the pleasure of seeing these documents as of yet, but The University of Aberdeen Special Collections contains “Two manuscripts believed to be in the hand of Hugh Allan, an early 19th-century North-East Scotland weaver poet. The first is a manuscript concerning the Rev John Skinner, (1721 – 1807) episcopal minister at Longside in Banff for 65 years, and father of Bishop John Skinner of Aberdeen. The second contains a transcript of ‘Peter Barnet’ a poetic parody of Robert Southey, composed by the Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg, as well as an unattributed ballad, ‘The Kirk O’Lora’s Testment’ [sic].” James Hogg was one of the more famous of the weaver poets.
Perhaps in a future essay I’ll have examples about Hugh Allan’s work, as well as write something on the area and times in which he lived. For a little more on the phenomena of the weaver poets and how they lived, you can read the essay, James Campbell of Ballynure – A Weaver Poet.